2 Timothy 2:1-7; 4:6-8
In the space of one verse Paul gives us three phrases:
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
“Fighting the good fight”, “finishing the course” and “keeping the faith” have all become well-known. Perhaps this trifecta of famous phrases is not surprising since Paul meant it to be memorable.
This is the last chapter of the last letter he wrote. Tradition has it Paul was beheaded in Rome in AD67 and here is the epitaph he chooses for himself. He’s a fighter, a runner, a perseverer. As he approaches the end of his life he inspires us towards the same.
Paul is writing to his spiritual son Timothy, passing on the baton of gospel work. Crucially, Paul was the last of a dying breed. He had met with the risen Christ and been an eye-witness of His glory. Soon there would be no-one left on earth who could say that.
So as the church’s last foundational apostle, how does Paul encourage the next generation? Chapter 2 gives a sense of his burden.
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. (2 Timothy 2:1-7)
Paul knows that his eye-witness testimony will not die out with him. In verse 2 he envisions four generations of gospel ministry. From Paul to Timothy to Timothy’s trainees to their trainees. On and on it goes until it reaches you and me.
But, of course, it doesn’t stop with us. We too will commit this gospel message to others. And they to others, and so on. The saying is true: “God’s grace always runs downhill.” It applies to proclamation too. In fact grace and proclamation are almost synonyms.
From Christ’s exaltation and the Pentecostal outpouring, there has been a gospel flow which has reached even us. Now we are caught up in its movement.
As I say this, though, I might be conjuring up the wrong kind of imagery – fountains and babbling brooks and floating along. Paul’s imagery is much more robust. How does it feel to be gripped by this gospel and pass it on? Like a soldier, like an athlete, like a farmer.
Today let’s think about the soldier: enduring, obedient, single-minded. For a soldier, all of life is channelled into the task in hand. There might long periods when the soldier is not “at the front”, but they are always battle-ready.
At the end of it all, though, there is a goal. Beyond the discipline and gruelling hard-work there is victory.
As Paul ends his final letter, this is where his mind goes – the end of his “good fight.” Thus it completes an image he initiated with his first letter:
Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
From the outset, the victory is given. But there’s still a fight and it lasts till the day we die. One day, though, the fight will be fought. Peace will reign and all of Christ’s soldiers will rest.